Shape Shifter (Starfaith Records) is the 36th album in 44 years for guitar hero Carlos Santana…and it’s the album I’ve been waiting for. He seemed to be coasting on 2010’s Guitar Heaven where he did up some played-out rock chestnuts by Led Zep, Cream, Ringo, Doors and Purple. And that came on the heels of three straight albums of collaborations where he let his guests shine: Problem is I could care less about Mary J. Blige, Will.i.am, Bo Bice from American Idol, Dave Matthews and Rob Thomas.
The three albums in question—Supernatural (1999), Shaman (2002) and All That I Am (2005)—were certainly entertaining, true. But where was the genius that permeated such profound and all-time great albums as Abraxas (1970), Caravanserai (1972) and Borboletta (1974)?
Enter Shape Shifter, an album of such instrumental power and chilling dynamics that it brings the artist back to what made him so special in the first place. There’s only one track with vocals and it’s in Spanish. Although it may not contain the fire and hunger of youth, neither does the man himself. If this album is any indication, he’s not only aged gracefully, but having nothing left to prove, he’s imbued even the lesser tracks with a serene calm and warmth that’s truly comfortable.
Plus, there’s a message with the music. The album is dedicated to Native Americans: “The young country of Australia made a conscious decision and collectively agreed to offer an apology to the Native Aborigines in 2008,” he writes. “Inspired by their understanding of what had transpired, the United States also signed the Native American Apology Resolution into law in 2009 by our president. I encourage any and all countries to acknowledge the first people of their land and make this a collective global effort.”
Carlos wrote these songs over a long period of years, putting them aside for “something special.” Drummer Dennis Chambers, keyboardist Chester Thompson and bassist Benny Rietveld are the bedrock upon which the foundations of these songs rest. Ever the student, he pays homage to Hungarian jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo (1936-1982) in “Mr. Szabo.” (It was Szabo’s “Gypsy Queen” that he fused with Fleetwood Mac’s “Black Magic Woman” in 1969 that helped make him famous.)
Ever the collaborator, he jams with his son, pianist Salvador Santana, on two tracks.
The shifting moods and percussive pop that permeates any Santana album is, of course, still there. But there’s a new, almost celestial vibe. Satisfying. Joyful. He may have a mission but the music itself is what’s paramount. And that’s the way it should be.
I forgot how hard Heart rocks. I forgot that they do a great Led Zeppelin, yet can turn around and sing the hell out of Aaron Neville’s soulful “Tell It Like It Is.” I forgot how they were among the first—if not the first—females in a band who wrote, played and sang their own songs. I forgot how drop dead gorgeous they were in the ‘70s. And, most of all, I forgot how much I used to love them. These reveries have been brought on by the Epic/Legacy release of the first Heart boxed set which I’ve been bathing in and absolutely loving. Strange Euphoria is a four-disc 3CD/DVD box, beautifully packaged, with all the hits as well as deep catalog cuts, rarities and in-concert moments, some of which have never been heard. It’s hard to fathom in this music industry of today where selling 50,000+ is an incredible accomplishment that Ann Wilson and her younger sister Nancy have sold a staggering 35 million records.
This has to be one of the more satisfying boxes of the year. It starts with a track from the pre-Heart Ann Wilson & The Daybreaks, three early demos of familiar songs where you hear the idea of the song as it’s being formulated, a remix edit of “Dreamboat Annie,” a killer “Barracuda” as performed at a BBC Radio Concert. “Little Queen” and “Kick It Out” righteously rev things up before a beautiful acoustic demo of “Dog And Butterfly,” which sooths the soul. And that’s not even half of disc number one! The other two CDs follow the same formula as familiar melodies get tweaked in new ways. The DVD is circa ’76, eminently watchable, a 10-song blast-off ending with a version of “Magic Man” that cuts the studio version to ribbons.